Archive | Donizetti RSS feed for this section

Enchanting Elisir

4 Jun

The Royal Opera was clearly having problems selling this revival of Elisir d’amore and offered its Friends some half price stalls seats.  I took the opportunity to take my niece.  It turned out to be a really happy performance.

It’s as hard to dislike Laurent Pelly’s neatly updated, very well-drilled production as it is hard to dislike the opera.  Neither puts a foot wrong nor outstays its welcome.  Some seemed to be hearkening back to the old Copley production and didn’t like Dulcamara’s lorry.  You have to be a bit of an old sourpuss to feel like that, it struck me, particularly when the lorry has flashing lights and fireworks.  There are lovely, daft ideas like the little dog that dashes across the stage and, above all, a deep understanding of how to keep the opera interesting.

Above all, Pelly keeps the human interaction at the core.   His characters are human beings who react to each other, listen and love.  That is what this lovely piece is about and the great duets where moved like dialogues.  This is a production that could quite easily go on forever.

I’d not originally been that taken with the cast but it was, actually, extremely good.  Pretty Yende has a lovely bright voice and she uses it intelligently, tastefully, musically.  I’ve heard other singers make more of a fuss out of Prendi and others with simply more sparkle in the voice for La ricetta e il mio visino.  I felt that she was tiring, slightly towards the end – the voice became just a tad shriller, the top slightly less grateful.  But, as well as a lovely voice and really good singing, she acts the role alertly.  I’ve ever found Adina a particularly sympathetic or attractive character.  Yende at least found a decency and honesty in her which made her rather interesting.  This was a super debut, however, and she’ll be welcome back.

So will Liparit Avetisyan who sang Nemorino – a replacement for Rolando Villazon.  I must say that I cannot imagine anyone regretting Villazon’s absence.  Avetisyan has a lovely gentle, warm voice that struck me as absolutely ideal for his role: nice high notes, but a warmth of phrasing and an openness about his singing that made him an absolute winner with the audience.  I’ve heard Una furtiva lagrima sung perhaps with greater style, with subtler pianissimi and more art, but rarely more openly or honestly.  He has a nice, gentle charm and the role seemed ideal for him.

Paolo Bordogna struck me as another very useful, stylish Italian baritone who I’d like to hear more of in these roles.  He caught the ridiculousness of Belcore but also, again, the basic decency.

Alex Esposito is that rare thing, a thin Dulcamara.  Maybe, a fuller, fruitier voice and a slightly more over-the-top personality would have helped but I really enjoyed his intelligent acting and his clear, strong singing.  He was alert, didn’t overplay and, again you believed in him.

The four made a lovely ensemble and, I’ve no doubt, were helped by Bertrand de Billy’s stylish, sensitive conducting.  The pace seemed right, the singers were able to breath and the delicacy and emotion of the score came across just about perfectly.  I like a stronger climax to the slow crescendo in the Act I finale (just listen to Pritchard on CD here) but its absence was, pretty much the only cavil I hard.  Chorus and orchestra were just fine.

Emma sat, pretty much, entranced, enjoying the fun, following the way the emotions turned and this was a show which made this opera seem as good as new.  A really lovely evening.

Elisir at Opera North

4 Mar

Opera North’s L’elisir d’amore has always been one their happier productions and the latest revival, which I caught on 3rd March at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle, proved fresh, alive and hugely enjoyable.

I’m fond of Elisir. It’s a beautifully human opera about character, with a gentle humour and real emotion which Donizetti charts wonderfully.  It’s a leisurely piece which gives the characters time to develop and this was what Daniel Slater’s excellent production caught.

He’s updated it. Adina owns a hotel, Nemorino is a waiter and there’s an assorted chorus of guest, police, a priest and a real doctor who is suitably upset by Dulcamara.  There are lots of nice, gentle jokes, plenty of colour and nothing to distract badly from the principal characters.  My only reservation comes with the fact that the curtain comes down to clear the stage in the middle of each act: it shouldn’t need to, particularly in Act II because there’s a nice momentum building up and this interrupts it.

Slater was back on hand to rehearse a bright young cast.  I loved the way he got the characters right: Belcore genuinely in love with Adina and she clearly regretting this from the beginning of Act II.  It’s neatly choreographed to just the right extent; Dulcamara has a a child assistant who manages to avoid entirely being irritating – easily the most successful assistant for him that I’ve seen in any production.  I don’t think you could ask for a more enjoyable production of it.

The cast is pretty good.  Jung Soo Yun struck me as someone to watch as Nemorino.  He has a lovely, Pavarotti-ish tenor which I thought he used with a lot of taste and confidence.  I’m not sure how he’d work in a larger theatre but this was intelligent, very beautiful singing and I thought he did Una furtiva lagrima really beautifully.

Gabriella Iştoc was a sympathetic Adina, intelligent and decent and you felt that this opera was a journey for her as much as for Nemorino.  Vocally, she was expressive, her voice is bright, clear and I thought that she did the series of duets with, again, good taste and understanding.

Duncan Rock is always watchable and his Belcore, a bit less exaggerated than usual gave you the sense, as I’ve suggested of someone who really cares for Adina.  He sang with a good sense of the style even though I suspect he’s more comfortable in Mozart and Britten.

Richard Burkhardt has a light-ish voice for Dulcamara, but he puts across the notes and the words really well and he’s a super actor.  His comic timing and range of expressions was perfect for the role.  Like all of them, it’s less exaggerated than usual and that’s no bad thing.  I loved his drinking the “elixir” himself before trying to get Adina in their Act II duet.

Fflur Wyn made a really attractive, positive Gianetta, singing really well – very strong casting here.  Chorus was in good form and seemed to be enjoying itself.  Tobias Ringhorn conducted and kept the piece moving.  I’ve heard more idiomatic Donizetti conducting in my time and smoother orchestral playing, but it did the job perfectly well.

It was sung in Italian which, I felt, was a shame.  While the Italian obviously fits the music, you lose the direct communication with the audience.  It was nice to hear Jung Soo Yun and Gabriela Iştoc but there are surely other English singers out there? The surtitles, I suppose, did the job.

A good, happy evening that kept me smiling and enjoying this gorgeous, funny, rather touching opera.

Fascinating Furioso

14 Mar

Donizetti’s Il furioso all’ isola di San Domingo had its first professional performance in the UK in living memory at the Hackney Empire on 12th March by the wonderful English Touring Opera. The way in which this company mixes the popular with the worthwhile rarities is a source of constant amazement to me  Normally, this sort of piece would be the preserve of students or, possibly, an Opera Rara concert.  Here was a full staging with a really good cast.  My only query was over whether they needed to use the rather gawky title of The Wild Man of the West Indies.

It isn’t a neglected masterpiece, but the joy of the Donizetti revival is that it has shown how much worthwhile work there is that we don’t get to see and what a serious composer he is.  What struck me was the sense that Donizetti was still, 43 operas on, experimenting or at least approaching each with an open mind to their challenges. This wasn’t a simple soprano/tenor/baritone piece but a six hander of interesting characters in an opera about madness and reconciliation. Not everything in the opera works, but there is enough of value to make it well worth the occasional revival.

A particular joy was watching it blind, so to speak. I hadn’t looked up the plot beforehand nor tried to hear any of the music. Moreover, the lighting in the auditorium was too dim for me to read the plot so I was following it as it happened and I didn’t know how it would end. I recommend it to you, particularly now that surtitles help you follow the story. You appreciate the way in which Donizetti handled the work and how far it is not your cliched Italian semiseria opera.

It’s set on a plantation. A mad man is terrorising the neighbourhood. He turns out to be Cardenio who has run away from his wife after finding that she has been unfaithful. Donizetti and Ferretti (who did the libretto for Cenerentola) convey the madness really well and Cardenio strikes me as a plum role for a decent baritone – Michaels-Moore, Keenlyside, Lucic, Hvorsostovky would have a marvellous time with this. A woman is shipwrecked and there are absolutely no prizes for guessing that she turns out to be Cardenio’s wife, Eleonora. What I wasn’t particularly expecting was his brother to turn up also. He has two challenging arias and a fairly minimal role in the drama. You sense that he was added because (a) they needed a tenor in there somewhere and (b) to pad the story out. Of course everyone gets to meet for a rather splendid Act I finale (the sextet may not be quite Lucia standard, but it’s very good). In Act II the question is simply over whether or not the two will get back together or not. I won’t spoil the surprise.

The plum roles are Cardenio, Eleonora and Fernando, the brother, but there is a good second soprano role for Marcella, the plantation superviser’s daughter (Donna Bateman was excellent), for Bartolomeo, her father (Njabulu Madala – very promising and a good Donizetti style), and his slave Kaidama (Peter Braithwaite, likewise excellent in a Pedrillo sort of part).

Craig Smith sang Cardenio – sympathetic, intelligent, really stylish and making me wish that I’d seen his Boccanegra. Maybe a native Italian might have got more out of the language and a slightly more refulgent voice could have had more fun wiht the music.  It worked in the lovely intimacy of the Hackney Empire and he created a moving, believable figure with cultured, intelligent singing. Donizetti’s view of madness his is reminiscent of Shakespeare’s in King Lear – simply being unaware of where he is and who he is with, obsessing on the past.  As Elleonora, Sally Silver made an appealing penitent heroine, well in command of the music and managing the coloratura with aplomb. Nicholas Sherratt sounded great as Fernando – his slightly reedy voice works well in this repertory and he has the top notes, of which there are many. The chorus of 11 did an excellent job.

Jeremy Silver conducted flexibly, getting the idiom and catching the contrasts between the comedy and seriousness of this opera and getting them right. The ETO orchestra was really good.

Iqbal Khan directed. He took the text and the opera at face value and made me believe in the characters and their predicaments. He didn’t avoid some classic operatic poses and he avoided the rather uncomfortable political overtones of slavery in the West Indies, probably rightly.  Perhaps the set was a little too bare for the frequent scenes where people are watching others unseen or hiding or appearing unexpectedly. It did the trick, though and it was good to see the opera being taken seriously and intelligently.

Hand on heart, this doesn’t have any of those great, heart-stopping Donizetti numbers, the sheer brilliance of some of his comedies or the continuous quality of Lucia. But there’s a lot of very attractive stuff here and parts where Donizetti creates convincing, moving music. Thanks to ETO for doing it and I think it’s brilliant that they’re taking it round the country. It’s not a masterpiece but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable engrossing evening and it’s worth the occasonal revival.  If you can catch it, go.